Currently earthquakes cause buildings to collapse and are therefore quite deadly, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Already there are modern high tech solutions that many earthquake prone areas use to ensure buildings don’t collapse during extreme shaking events. We can augment our current systems by using those from the past. In India the traditional kath kuni architectural style is designed to handle seismic events and has been refined over centuries. The techniques used in creating these kath kuni structures can be applied to buildings today to ensure a higher level of safety and thus make earthquakes less deadly.
In the mountainous region of Himachal Pradesh in India, near where the Indian Plate is colliding with the Eurasian Plate, many structures built in the kath kuni style have survived at least a century of earthquakes. In this traditional building method, the name, which translates to “wood corner,” in part explains the method: Wood is laced with layers of stone, resulting in improbably sturdy multi-story buildings.
It is one of several ancient techniques that trace fault lines across Asia. The foundations for the timber lacing system of architecture may have originally been laid in Istanbul around the fifth century. Stone masonry and wood-beam construction can still be seen in Nepal as well as in the traditions of Kashmiri Taq and Dhajji Dewari and Pakistani Bhatar. Even Turkey has a long tradition of similar construction methods. Despite their ancient origins, this model of construction has mostly fared better over centuries than much of the contemporary building across the continent’s many active seismic zones.
The climate crisis has us questioning where people live, work, and how they get between the two. We’ve known for decades that low density sub-urban living is horrible for the environment (and people’s mental health) because it detaches people from each other due to car-based transportation. Many have argued that skyscrapers are the needed alternative because high density living is good. Architects Declare have released a letter questioning this reasoning, they argue that six stories is the ideal height for people and for the planet. A city of six story buildings is good density, the best example being Paris.
The unavoidable fact is that, in terms of resource efficiency, the embodied carbon in their construction and energy consumption in use, skyscrapers are an absurdity. The amount of steel required to resist high windspeeds, the energy required to pump water hundreds of metres above ground and the amount of floorspace taken up by lifts and services make them one of the most inefficient building types in a modern metropolis. It could also be argued that skyscrapers further detach us from any meaningful relationship with the natural world. Above about ten storeys, balconies don’t work because it is simply too windy, so high-rise apartments are hermetically sealed – as isolated from nature as possible.
The future will use algae everywhere so architects are examining ways to incorporate these versatile eukaryotic organisms into the built environment. Architects are already engaged in designing buildings to support algae growth and incorporating third party algae systems on to a building. Now we’re seeing architects think of ways to design buildings that are designed around algae and incorporate algae into all aspects of the structure. Over at Architeizer they have put together some really groovy algae architecture mashups.
In order to achieve minimal environmental impact, the studio envisions a two-fold approach to sustainability. Their proposal not only introduces algae as a way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions but also proposes a system that can be incorporated into existing buildings.
The concept is applied in a rethinking of the Marina City Towers in Chicago. The architects imagine retrofitting the famous towers with a synthetic closed loop that works at three levels, carbon sequestration from the air to feed the bioreactor, absorption by vegetal photosynthesis and energy saving through solar and wind energy creation. This bioreactor, placed as tubes at the top of the building and the parking lot below, will produce enough energy to satisfy all the building’s power needs.
Global warming is bringing more intense heat waves to our urban environments which means cities will need to adapt to the new temperatures. Indeed, regular readers will recognize a lot of ways cities can mitigate extreme heat from painting roads white to regulating green roofs. Over at Arch Daily they have compiled a neat list of good ways cities are exploring to stay cool.
Current popular building practices lack a nuanced approach to sustainability due to years of it being culturally ok to put future generations into ecological debt. Thankfully, things are starting to change and architects want to build a sustainable future, and fast. Prior to mass industrialization buildings were constructed using locally sourced materials, making them more sustainable with a relatively small carbon footprint. As globalization increased the techniques of using local materials were forgotten and now architects are calling for everybody in their field to share best practices around locally sourced material and techniques.
Architects are at the forefront of our drive to lessen the impact humans have on the environment. While the agenda has stayed relatively constant since I was at school, the sustainability goalposts have moved â€“ and narrowed. A building designed as zero-carbon just half a decade ago would now be considered â€˜operationallyâ€™ zero-carbon at best, whereas â€˜whole-life carbonâ€™ calculations now consider the buildingâ€™s demolition and waste disposal. Our thinking, designs and architectural goals must evolve, but things are evolving at such a speed; how on earth are architects to keep up?
â€˜Renewable and sustainable technologies change very quickly, as does our understanding of sustainable outcomes, so it is important to try to keep on top of it,â€™ says Tate Harmer partner Jerry Tate. â€˜We need to communicate to each other in our industry, sharing best practice and our experiences to help get to the right answers.â€™